Testament was the last film Lang made before the expanding Nazi regime forced him to flee Germany, bringing to a close the most creatively productive phase of his career. Lang's escape to America, and Nazi censors' decision to ban the film as a "threat to law and order and public safety," make it a milestone of art at odds with the ideology of the regime.
Too bad the film itself is not much fun to watch.
Testament picks up where the last film left off, with the Mabuse locked away in an insane asylum, obsessively composing a barely legible document in his cell. His testament, it turns out, is a massive compendium of criminal plans designed to throw mankind "into an abyss of terror." Mabuse's psychiatrist, Dr. Baum falls increasingly under the influence of to bad doctor's plans, secretly running Mabuse's highly organized crime syndicate and carrying out plots to sabotage railways, chemical factories, farms and banks.
At the same time, Commissioner Lohmann (on loan from Lang's previous film, M) receives a strange phone call from one of his inspectors about a counterfeit ring. When the inspector turns up missing, leaving only Mabuse's name inscribed on a window, Lohmann suspects that seemingly disparate crimes area actually part of a master conspiracy.
It all sounds promising, but Lang chooses to highlight parts of the story that are not very interesting. He wastes good film on a terribly contrived romance between one of Mabuse's underlings and his devoted girlfriend; necessary only to make sure that Lohmann gets a break in the case. While Lohmann is a great character, Lang spends too much camera time doing quotidian police work - talking on the phone, discussing the case with his manservant, poking around crime scenes. There are massive terrorist schemes being hatched in the background, but Lang never uses their preparation to turn up the tension and doesn't awe the audience with their execution until the impressively staged chemical plant explosion at the end of the film.
Generally, Testament is missing the flamboyant art direction and self-conscious directorial style that is the trademark of his German work. And while the film tackles the ideological underpinnings of the Nazi government -- and the use of terrorist acts to undermine the confidence of a nation with a shaky economy certainly remains relevant -- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is short of mesmerizing.
On DVD, an entire second disc of Lang-centric extras await you, not the least of which is the French version of the film, which Lang shot simultaneously with this one, with French actors instead of Germans. Kooky? You better believe it.
Aka Das Testamant des Dr. Mabuse.
Run time: 122 mins
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Fritz Lang
Producer: Fritz Lang
Starring: Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse, Oscar Beregi Sr. as Prof. Dr. Baum, Paul Bernd as Erpresser, Henry Pleß as Bulle, Otto Wernicke as Kommissar Lohmann, Paul Henckels as Lithograph, Theo Lingen as Karetzky, Rudolf Schündler as Hardy, Camilla Spira as Juwelen-Anna